Now that we have discussed cover letters and teaching statements, I would like to continue our Job Market Boot Camp by discussing research statements. As with my other dossier documents, my experience with the job-market consultant I used was that I had been doing my research statement all wrong.
First, as with other dossier materials, I learned that my biggest error was in trying to "talk up" my research. Rather than saying how original and groundbreaking your research is, I learned that you should just describe your research in neutral terms that show (rather than say) how original your research is. Just explain--in purely descriptive terms--what your research is and what it adds to whatever philosophical debate(s) it engages with. For an example, see my research statement here.
Second, I learned that it is important to focus clearly on the upshot of your research (why it is interesting), not distracting your reader argumentative details. As you can see in my research statement, I basically summarized in one paragraph the entire book I am working on--not giving any of the book's actual arguments, but rather the main conclusions the book defends, as well as how they contribute to moral philosophy. Remember, many (indeed most) readers of your research statement are people working in other areas of philosophy no background in your AOS. Going into details about your arguments is more likely to befuddle these readers more than anything else, making them think that you are someone who cannot cut to the point and explain the importance to people outside of your narrow area of specialization. The aim of your research statement should be to interest the reader in your file, making them want to actually read your writing sample (which is where the argumentative details belong!).
Third, it is really important to have a paragraph for each major research program you summarize briefly laying out where you intend to take the research in the next several years. This is important because (or so I learned) search committees are looking for a successful hire--someone who is actually going to get tenure. In order to get tenure, you have to not simply have a dissertation you have written or even several current articles written comprising a research program. You have to show that your research program is fecund: one that is likely to generate publications later down the road. As you can see, I did this in my research in several ways: by explaining how I intend to apply my first research program to many areas of applied ethics, and how I will turn my second research program into a book. Once again, you do not need to--and probably should not--give a ton of details. You just need to show that you have seriously thought about these things: that you have thought not about where your research has been or is now, but about where it will go in the future.
This brings me to my fourth point, which is that however much you might think that you should embellish your research statement with a ton of details, don't. For instance, if you look at my research statement, many of my paragraphs seem pretty short. My summaries of my major research programs are all relatively short paragraphs, just giving "bullet-point" summaries of the major takeaways from my work--and my "future research plans" paragraphs are, like, three sentences long. Why? Why not give more details than that? Won't search committees want more information than that? The answer, quite simply is: yes...but it doesn't belong in your research statement. Let me explain why.
As some of you may know (from past posts), I spent my undergrad and grad years playing semi-professionally in several music groups. One thing many of us knew in that industry is that it is always better to leave people wanting more, rather than overstaying your welcome. Your fans want a 2-hour set? Sorry, give them a 9 song, 50-minute set. That may disappoint them a bit...but it will make them want to come to your next show! The last thing you want to do is play a 2-hour set, which may satisfy some fans but bore the living daylights out of others. Even if some people want to see the 2-hour set, it will (A) make them less likely to come to your next show (since they've "been there, done that"), and (B) it will definitely turn off those you bored to death by staying on stage too long.
Something similar is true of research statements. Remember, these search committees you are writing for are slogging through hundreds of applications. The last thing you want to do with your research statement is to frustrate anyone. While some specialists in your AOS might be very interested and impressed by an intricate, super-detailed research statement, a statement like that is likely to simply bamboozle other readers. You want your statement to be simple, clean, and direct--giving a crystal clear overview of nothing more than how your research is unique and moves a debate forward...so that your reader will actually want to seek out the details in your writing sample (much as, if you are in a music group, you want to give an audience just enough songs in your set to make them want to check out your other songs on iTunes).
In short, your research statement--just like your teaching statement--should really aim to be around one crisp, clean page, and definitely no longer than 1 and 1/2 pages. My previous research statements were around two pages, and when I read them now in retrospect, it is altogether clear to me that they were way too long. If I were on a research committee going through hundreds of applications, I wouldn't want to read anything nearly that long. It is possible to keep you research statement this short. I kept mine to 1 and 1/2 pages while describing three different research programs.
Okay, then, I guess that's all I have on research statements. Thoughts? Anything I missed?